at the edge: a response to “action is primary”

at the edge of the space, on the border between observer and participant

A response to observing action is primary workshops and rehearsals (February 2016)

by Jai Arun Ravine

1. do what you need

I arrive at The Whole Shebang. The door is locked. No one told me the code. I push what I hope is a doorbell several times, with no response. I stand outside for 15 minutes in the cold. One of the participants arrives and lets me in.

Meg asks everyone to stand together in the center. Notice how cramped it feels. Then she asks us to move back and stand at the edges of the space. Notice how much more room you have.

I sit at the edge of the space with my water bottle, notebook and pen. I don’t expect to participate, but participation is suggested. A borrow a pair of dance pants from a friend.

2. action is primary

I’m the only person of color in a room full of white people. I sit at the edge of the space, trying to be as small as possible. This is not the first time I’ve noticed this kind of composition in my environment, but writing it down here makes it feel like an isolated event. When people come near me, I pull in my feet. My action is to observe from the outside. Even “inside,” my actions still feel like observations from the outside.

how porous are the edges of center
how much of the present moment does it include
notice when you get distracted

“I’m the only person of color in a room full of white people” is often my first thought when I enter a room. Is entering a room, or my inability to fully enter a room, or a prolonged yet truncated entrance, my primary action?

3. single focus / multiple body

On actionisprimary.com there are four tandem tumble streams, one for each dancer. Each stream is an assortment of daily 3:15 documents: screenshots, scans of journal entries or drawings, video portals, photos, text.

I’m all too familiar with multiplicity; the multiple body is a daily real. During the workshop Meg says I’m thinking of the center as unfixed and one of the participants responds with oh, that’s interesting as if this has never occurred to them before. I find this very strange. Of course the center is unfixed. But what feeds this “of course?” A stream of various moments spilling unconnected through space-time and compiling themselves in my memory, influencing how I move.

where you are looking
identify the focus or dominant value
widen or disperse versus tidying up

In the 3:15 documents, sometimes the dancer is in the frame. On other days the frame is from their point of view—what they see, what is in front of them. A friend, an empty room or hallway. A car. A grocery store aisle. A workspace, a wall, the El stop. What spills into or gets caught in the frame is also included: ambient audio, partial occurrences, peripheral objects.

This pool of experience is huge. In the workshop with 10+ bodies being multiple, it’s like over-crowding, claustrophobia, the sidewalk. A population. Each and every human being moves through the world with their own set of struggles, oppressions, emotions, pain and hunger. Isn’t that overwhelming? The airport. Everyone on the train on their phone, clutching their bags and falling asleep.

Inside such a dense container, where is rest? Stillness? Ease? Where is breath, or alone?

4. intervention

I’m not sure I’m doing it right. What was the prompt? I’m not sure I’m here. I do a bunch of quick movements and then stop. Who is intervening?

Interrupt, or jostle. Shake before consuming, as contents may settle at the bottom. Pulp.

This feels like chaos, or like someone I trust becoming violent and unpredictable. How do I protect myself? I try to get away from moving bodies. I put up an energetic barrier. Don’t fuck with me. Where are the dark stones?

change, change again
fractal versus metamorphosis
can you trace?

This type of change is too rapid, and therefore feels violent to me. Its texture is unstable, tectonic shift, earthquake. I keep feeling the outlying tremors without seeing the epicenter. Where is the building, the gentrifying force of privilege uprooting the block? I’m stepping around the construction zone: sidewalk closed, please cross. Can I scale the scaffolding or should I just get on the subway?

5. authentic melodrama

Being in a room full of white people who are being loud and taking up space is my worst nightmare. I feel triggered, agitated and unable to fortify my own boundaries. I turn inward and become very slow and quiet in order to survive. This feels too real, too much like what I do everyday in social spaces.

how are you feeling
pushing from inside or pulling from outside
imagine being seen, if so from where

I would like to run around and take up space but there’s not actually room for me here. I don’t feel everyone else’s sense of freedom or liberation. I feel everyone else’s permission to be in their body while I feel completely outside of my body. Where can I hide? I look out the window for a very long time.

6. visualization

This practice seems to be a way to organize improvisational chaos, or infinite and overlapping possibilities, while still keeping the space alive. It’s a way of enabling presence. It allows for the emotional processes and responses within the bodies of the dancers to rise to the surface. Everyone feels vulnerable. Everyone feels mundane. Everyone is performing vulnerability in a sometimes awkward, daily way. No “fourth wall.” This is kind of scary. I’m seeing and hearing more than I want to see and hear. The volume of discordant sound and the quantity of bodies is hard to retreat from.

what is the life of this place
ratio of image and experience
do you see people or do you erase them

At the edge of the space, on the border between observer and participant, I feel each dancer’s energetic field. I feel how the energy of the entire space shifts when the prompt shifts. Meg moves through on a higher frequency, very fast and alert, connecting everyone.

I can see the benefit of this practice if done one-on-one with a trusted witness, as in Authentic Movement. But with 10+ people in the room, how can one make space for themselves within constant agitation?

7. talking

Everyone starts yelling. I would like to whisper, or hum, or sing, but I can’t hear. Who am I! Look at me! People are either moaning or trying to rationalize their existence. I don’t really feel like talking because who am I talking to? Myself? Into the void? And what am I talking “about?” And what is the use of my voice if it’s just taking up space?

talking fills space around action
how talking moves through body
what is this doing to my body / doing to space

One participant talks about the talking as another limb of the body, instead of a parallel task. I find this image pretty beautiful. I like thinking about speech as an integrated limb.

8. all 5 at once

During a rehearsal the dancers talk about the difference between doing the practice alone, versus altogether with the other three. Alone, they can be in control of their own environment. They can be “in” all the time. In the group, they find themselves coming in and going out, or trying to hide; the space feels out of their control. One person says, there is already so much to include.

How much can one receive? What does one disregard, ignore or expunge? What dictates these choices?

9. action is primary (again)

Some kind of return. Noticing what is / feels different, now.

absorption / saturation
take all the things out of the fridge / what do you make
seek pleasure in the process

10. do what you need / residue

What just happened? I try to record what I remember, but I wasn’t “in” enough to really feel the effect of the research. I’d like to do this practice on my own, with a witness, because I know that the physical investigations will be much more clear, much more centered, than what I just experienced, which was me reacting to a variety of triggers.

how do you regard the accident
does your center incorporate it
multiplicity or containment

I’d really love to hold myself at the center of what I’m doing, even as it slips to new centers, but I’m finding this task impossible here.

Maybe what I need to do is stop, leave the room and come back later.


Note: The italicized triplets are my notations of Meg Foley’s spoken prompts during a workshop at The Whole Shebang.